Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

How do you like my Tots?

My plate, before I indulged
Tater tots, that is!  If you have been following our blog for a while then you may remember when we were on a serious quest for eating the best hamburgers as outlined in the book Hamburger America.  Much to our dismay, the book did not list any eateries in Arizona so we decided to take matters into our own hands and go find one.  My search on Urbanspoon, Trip Advisor, and Food Spotter apps directed me to a Tucson joint that seemed sure to curb our never ending desire for greasy ground bovine.  So off we went to the hip university district hangout called “Lindy’s on 4th”.

We knew we came to the right place when once we stepped inside and caught a waft of the sizzling meat.   This funky dive with loud punk music thinks hamburgers are an art form and goes to all lengths to create some culinary masterpieces like using raspberry preserves, pineapple, ginger wasabi aioli, and two grilled cheese sandwiches for buns.  Ouch, cardiac arrest is now upon us.

I opted for a cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato so I could get the real taste of the meat.  Betsy went the fried onion ring route.  Noticing that tater tots were on the menu forced my taste buds and salivary glands into overdrive and I promptly ordered a side of the loaded tater tots that were smothered with cheese, sour cream, bacon bits, and chives.  Oh, what have I done?

Betsy opted to remove a couple of the onion rings before putting this in her mouth.
For some reason, I think this blog post is going to spur an email from my health-conscious mother reminding me that you can have a heart attack at age 42 and tater tots do not count as a vegetable on the food pyramid.

Lindy's was a funky joint that really satisfied our burger craving.  I think Hamburger America may need to be amended to include this restaurant.

Note the ketchup bottle slashing the mustard bottle in the picture.  
Burger is "God" at Lindy's on 4th.
My plate, after I indulged.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Day Amongst the Cacti


One cool, sunny morning we headed to east Tucson where we picked up our friend Melinda and ventured out to explore Saguaro National Park and to immerse ourselves in the desert ecosystem.  The park is named after the iconic Saguaro cactus that dominates the Tucson landscape.  If you have never seen a saguaro – it is that tall lean cactus with the funny arms that ends up as a cartoon character or in every western movie.  Somehow these plants seem to take on a real personality and you forget they are covered in menacing thorns.

A "cactus blight" severely reduced the number of saguaros at the
park and officials even considered abolishing the park.  
Our first stop was at the visitor center where we watched the orientation film, checked out the exhibits, and perused the bookstore and gift shop (just in case there was something we could not live without).  Then we were off to drive the Cactus Forest Drive which is a one-way loop road where there are numerous pull-offs for you to stop and enjoy the scenery, marvel at the thorny mountainous landscape, and pick up a hiking trail or two.  

A view of the Catalina Mountains from the park.  
The wooden "ribs" of the saguaro have been used for centurys' in building construction and
are still visible in old buildings around Tucson.
After hearing that there are six species of rattlesnakes in the park, I was a little hesitant to venture too far away from the vehicle (I don’t do snakes).  Melinda convinced me snakes are quite sluggish this time of year and Betsy coaxed me out of the car with a look of disgust for my intolerance of one of God’s creatures.  So off we went for a short walk along the Desert Ecology Trail.


The park’s history dates back to 1933 when it was declared a National Monument and holds the distinction of being the first monument established with the purpose of protecting a particular plant species.  A booming Tucson population and expansive cattle ranching (if you can believe cattle are ranched in the desert) brought about detrimental changes to the landscape and conservationists felt an urgency to protect the saguaro.  The saguaro is a very long-lived species and their disappearance would have a lasting impact on the land. 

Saguaros can live to be 200 years old but only grow between 1-1 1/2 inches in its
first 8 years.  They don't start growing "arms" until they are 50-70 years old.  So this one if very old!
After spending a few hours at the park we were still not done with cacti viewing for the day and were off to visit a couple of local nurseries.  The countless varieties, shapes, colors, spine patterns, and sizes blew our minds. Both Betsy and I were fascinated with this new form of garden plant that we were not accustomed to.

O.k., so I was more interested in following around "Smokey" the cat at the B&B Cactus Farm than picking out a cactus.
We will always remember our time amongst the cactus with Melinda as she gave us a baby saguaro cactus and an adorable metal javalina for Christmas.  What a great reminder of our time in Tucson.  Thanks!





Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the desert.  Just like other neighborhoods, the Christmas lights are up and the stockings have been hung.  RV'ers find clever ways to decorate for the holidays.  Some hang lights inside their RV's, others decorate their campsites, and some go all out with the inflatables.
Our Tucson friend, Melinda, loaned us a tree and lights which brought Christmas cheer to our campsite.
Even Spirit got into the Christmas spirit.
Thought I would share some of the lights in the neighborhood.  Enjoy!









Saturday, December 22, 2012

Off to the Mission

One legend has it that the right tower was left unfinished
until the "Excellent Builder" comes down from heaven and oversees
the construction.
Driving south of Tucson we noticed a beaming white mission that illuminates the desert and provides a bright spot in the stark brown Tucson desert.  So one afternoon Betsy and I set out to explore the beautiful and luring Mission San Xavier del Bac.  A couple of weeks ago we visited the Tumacocori  mission, one of many missions founded by the Jesuit Father Kino – who became known as the “Padre on Horseback” – and he also founded San Xavier in 1692.

As you approach the mission it emits mystery and beauty.  Soon you begin to understand why people flocked to this religious oasis which is still an active Catholic Parish that continues to draw religious followers.  To some, San Xavier is considered the country’s most magnificent example of Spanish Colonial period architecture.  The mission became a National Historic Landmark in the 1960’s.  The detailed interior is mesmerizing and overwhelms your eyes.  We stood in awe of the painstaking artistry that took years to complete.  The interior of the church is filled with intricate murals and statues and the religious symbolism is exhaustive. 

Upon entering the church, one's eye is drawn to the statue of San Francisco, the
patron saint. 
Above San Francisco is the Virgin Mary.
The original church was destroyed.  But construction of a new church under the direction of the Franciscans began in 1783 and is the church that is still standing today.  While not much is known about the architects, builders and artisans, it is believed many were from the local Tohono O'odham tribe whose land the church rests on.  In 1992, the church underwent extensive restoration lasting five years.  We spent time watching a great film in the visitor center that describes the detailed restoration project.


Many people still come to the mission to pray to San Francisco for intersessionary prayer to God.  Countless people claim their prayers have been answered through St. Francisco.  Or if you can't make it in person, you can email the prayers to the mission and they will pin it on Saint Francis.  I'm serious, this really is on their website!


There is no shortage of prayer candles to light.




The mission welcomes visitors whether it is to attend mass, one of their festivals, or just to stroll through the mission and grounds where local artisans from the Tohono O'odham tribe sell baskets, which they are well-known for.  If you come at lunch time, you might want to try the fry bread at one of the food stands – I have yet to eat an Indian fry bread that I didn't like. 

Large mesquite doors welcome visitors.
A shrine on the hill overlooking the mission.
Concrete stucco that was used to repair the church over the years is being removed as this material was found to trap water that led to interior damage.  The  stucco is being replaced with the traditional mud plaster, including pulp from the prickly pear cactus, that "breathes" better and allows  excess water to escape.

A trip to the mission is well worth it if you are in Tucson.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gingered Coconut Butternut Squash Soup

It's that time of year when we are in the midst of holidays, the weather turns cold, and being inside makes me think of  food.  O.k., so cold for southern Arizona is in the 60's but waking up to a cold, damp morning leads my taste buds to soup.  A few months back when we were in Durango I made this for our friends Nancy and Ginger and they enjoyed it enough to ask for the recipe.  So I thought I would share the recipe with you.

To finish the dish (and make it look more appealing than a bowl of baby food), I added a little yogurt on top with some pumpkin seeds.  I really wanted to add crumbled bacon and heavy cream, but a little fat-conscious voice in my head said no.  Or, was that Betsy?

Enjoy!  Happy Holidays!

Ingredients 


2              large butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
1              tablespoon olive oil
2              tablespoons unsalted butter
1              large onion, cut into ½-inch dice
1              small fennel bulb, halved, cored and cut into ½-inch dice
1              1 ½-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1              tablespoon curry powder
1              teaspoon ground cinnamon
5              cups chicken stock
1              14-ounce can of unsweetened coconut milk
⅛             teaspoon cayenne pepper
1              tablespoon fresh lemon juice
                salt and pepper, to taste

Directions


Preheat the oven to 350°.  

Rub the cut sides of the squash with the olive oil and put them cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake the squash for about 1 hour, or until very tender.  Remove from the oven and let cool enough to handle.  Remove the flesh with a spoon and place in a large bowl.  Discard the skins.

In a large pot, melt the butter.  Add the onion, fennel and ginger and cook over medium heat until softened, about 8 minutes.  Add the curry powder and cinnamon and cook for 2 minutes until fragrant.  Add the squash and the chicken stock, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Uncover the pot and continue cooking until the squash starts to fall apart, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut milk.

Working in batches, puree the squash soup in a blender until smooth.  Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.   (Add more chicken stock or coconut milk if the soup is too thick.)

The soup can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 2 days.  Left over soup can be frozen.

Serves 6-8

Note:  Use the light coconut milk if you are trying to save calories.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Old Arizona and Ol' friends


Our good friends Melinda and Dick suggested that we take a short drive down south with them to Tubac and Tumacácori National Historical Park for a day of shopping, eating, and soaking up southern Arizona culture.  Tubac is a shoppers dream - a groovy blend of art galleries, clothing boutiques, crafts shops, home furnishings, and antiques stores…plus many more hidden gems with purchasable items.  Interspersed with the shops are plenty of restaurants so our stomachs could be satisfied and the shopping could resume.  

Established in 1752 as a Spanish Presidio (fort), Tubac is the oldest continually occupied European settlement in Arizona.  Tubac’s history is long and sorted including Jesuit Missionaries, Indian uprisings, mining, and now an influx of artists luring tourists to the town. 


  

All that shopping and we were hungry so we settled into Elvira’s Restaurant – a cool fusion of creative Mexican and bistro food with a dimly lit and crazy colorful atmosphere.



A few miles south of Tubac is Tumacácori National Historical Park.  Mission Tumacácori was established in 1691 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino’s  after a landmark visit to an O’odham Indian village.  This would be one of 20 missions he established but the oldest established in Arizona. 


A visit to the park begins with a short orientation film and then you are free to wander the grounds on a self-guided tour.  The weather was perfect, we loved being with our friends and we enjoyed our leisurely tour under the warm sun.  


Betsy and Father Kino
Looking inside the mission